Mathematical Expositions [WI]
MATH 490

Spring 2009
MW 12:0012:50
Oliver Hall 2079

Instructor: Richard Hammack
Office hours:
Office: Oliver 2070
Mon. Wed. 11:00–11:50 & 1:00–2:00
Work: 828-6237
Tues., Thurs. 11:00–12:00
Home: 353-8572
and by appointment
E-mail: rhammack @ vcu . edu

Prerequisite: ENGL 200 and nine credits in mathematics courses at the 300 level or higher

Text: No text is required. The following textbook is optional:
Handbook of Writing for the Mathematical Sciences,
Second Edition, by Nicholas Higham (ISBN 0-89871-420-6)

MATH 490 is a writing-intensive mathematics course. It is intended to help you attain proficiency in expository mathematical writing and in oral presentations. For the first half of the semester our time is divided between guest speakers and discussion of various issues related to mathematical research, writing and exposition. The second half of the semester is dedicated to presentations by class members. You are also required to read at least four published mathematical papers and attend various colloquia in the mathematical sciences. You are graded on five main areas as follows.

Reviews of Mathematical Articles: You will choose four articles from a list of prize-winning mathematical articles and write a critical review of each one. The course web page contains some guidelines on how to find an article and write a review.

Colloquium Reports: You are required to write a short (1 or 2 page) report on at least two seminars or colloquia that you attend over the course of the semester. You may attend any colloquium in the mathematics, physics or chemistry departments, or in the School of Engineering, provided that the talk has some mathematical content. You may write one report on a talk given by a guest speaker in this class, but at least one report should be on a talk outside of the class. The course web page contains some guidelines on writing a colloquium report.

Term Paper: At the end of the semester, you will submit a term paper (about 15 pages) on a mathematical topic of your choice. In advance of this, you will submit a proposal for your paper and draft.

Presentation: During the second half of the semester, you will give a 20-minute presentation on a mathematical topic of your choice. You may speak on your term paper's topic, but you are also free to choose another topic. In advance of your presentation, you will submit an outline and an abstract.

Attendance/engagement: You are expected to attend and be engaged in each class. (Being in class physically but tuned out mentally can count as an absence!) You can earn a total of 50 points for Attendance/engagement. Each unexcused absence results in 5 points deducted from this score.

  Your grade is based on points earned on assignments as follows.
Due date
Review #1
Jan. 21
Review #2
Feb. 4
Review #3
Feb. 18
Review #4
March. 4
Colloquium report #1
Up to one week after event
Colloquium report #2
Up to one week after event
Term paper proposal
  February 23
First draft of term paper
April 15
Term paper
   April 27
Abstract of presentation
 2 weeks prior to presentation
Outline of presentation
1 week prior to presentation
To be arranged

Points are added at the end of the semester and a letter grade is assigned as follows
9001000 points  
800899 points  
700799 points  
600699 points  
0599 points  

Important notes:
Regardless of the final point total, a student who fails to submit a term paper or deliver a presentation may fail the course.
All papers, drafts, outlines and abstracts are due at the beginning of class on appointed days. Ten points are automatically deducted from the grade of any assignment submitted later than this. An additional 10 points is deducted every day the paper is late. Moreover, I tend to spend little time grading late work and will give minimal written feedback.
If you are unable to attend class on a day an assignment is due, either submit the assignment early or have a classmate or friend turn it in for you.
Please email assignments only in the event of an emergency. Unless there is an emergency, I will not print out an emailed assignment, nor will I provide any written feedback on an emailed assignment.
Plagiarism is dealt with according to University Policy.


Internet: Information about this course is posted on my web page (not on Blackboard). Go to and click on "Math 490." There you will find the syllabus, calendar, and other materials.

Cell Phones: Please be sure that all cell phones and other electronic devices (including iPods, BlackBerries and laptops) are turned off and stowed away for the entire duration of each class. Leaving such devices on may lower your participation score.

Office: Please feel free to stop by my office whenever you have a question, or if you just want to chat. If my posted hours are inconvenient, I will be happy to schedule an appointment. Tell me if you are having trouble. Catching up can be very difficult once you get behind, so let me know as soon as you think there is a problem.

Accommodations: Any student eligible for and needing academic adjustments or accommodations because of a disability should contact me within the first week of class.